In the 16th-century this picturesque village was the 14th wealthiest town in Britain, paying more tax than populous cities such as York and Lincoln, thanks to the quality of its renowned blue woollen cloth, which was in great demand.
However, by 1525 the bubble had burst. The demise of the cloth trade, for which Lavenham was famed, meant that the merchants had left looking for their next new venture. The local population was unable to maintain the timber-framed buildings, which had previously been funded by the enormous wealth created by the cloth trade and the buildings began to crumble.
By the 17th-century there was a threat of mass demolition. The situation was so severe that the Lord of the Manor took his tenants to court to prevent the destruction.
Through the ages
1327- An industrial town specialising in cloth
16th-century- Lavenham's wealth grew disproportionately
1524- The 14th richest town in Britain
1525- Lavenham witnessed mass demonstrations by unemployed men
1530- The Guildhall was probably built
1568- Ranked behind other local towns such as Sudbury and Nayland
1689- The Guildhall was in use as a jail
178-4 Prison reformer John Howard described its disrepair
1787- Closed as a jail and later used as a workhouse and almshouse
1887- Bought by Sir William Cuthbert Quilter, Baronet and one-time MP
1939-1945- Received evacuees and served as a restaurant and nursery
1946- Quilter's son, Sir William, vested it to the local community
1951- The Guildhall was passed into the National Trust's care
With over 320 buildings of historic significance, Lavenham is well worth exploring. Find out how, and why, the timber-framed houses and medieval streets, for which Lavenham is famed, were built and still exist to this day.
The Guildhall, also known as the Guildhall of Corpus Christi, was originally one of five guilds in Lavenham.
It was probably the most exclusive holding prime position in the market square.
The woollen trade
Lavenham's prosperity was due to its specialised production of woad-dyed broadcloth known as Lavenham Blues. The cloth was exported far and wide and its rich merchants funded many buildings you see today.